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Can the Police Enter Your Home Without a Warrant?

Police investigations and crime have become the subject of Hollywood dramas and television – as a result, it can be hard to decipher fact from fiction regarding your rights. Police dramas are full of scenes where police officers barge into homes, collecting evidence and making arrests – but would this conduct actually be allowed? What are your rights to search under the law?

The simple answer is that the Fourth Amendment bars many of the actions you would typically see in “cop drama.” The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution protects American citizens from unreasonable search and seizures. It guarantees the rights for people to feel secure in their “persons, houses, papers, and effects.” In other words, under the terms of the Fourth Amendment, an officer must obtain written permission from a court to legally conduct a search of another person’s home or property. Though evidence obtained without a warrant is inadmissible in court as it is illegally obtained, many people don’t fully understand their rights under the Fourth Amendment or fear pressure from the police.

There are certain instances in which the police might not need a warrant to search your premises. For example, a warrant is not necessary if you give consent to search. The others include:

  • The “plain view doctrine.” This applies when police officers can see evidence within their sightline. For example, if the police see an illegal act occurring from outside the door, they do not need a warrant to perform a search or seize evidence. However, the police officers must still have probable cause to believe that the activities were illegal.
  • Searches in connection with arrests. Police officers do not require warrants to perform searches connected to arrests. For example, the police officers have a right to protect themselves by searching your person for weapons. Additionally, they can search your car or your home for additional evidence connected to the crime, if you’re arrested.
  • Extenuating circumstances. Lastly, a police officer is not required to obtain a warrant if they believe waiting on the courts would lead to the destruction of evidence or endanger public safety. In this case, an officer’s duty to protect and preserve evidence outweighs their obligation to obtain a warrant.

What Is a Warrant?

Warrants are not blanket legal documents that grant limitless authority to police officers; rather, they provide police with authorization to search and seize specific items from a certain location, within a specific time frame. In order to obtain a warrant, the police officer must demonstrate that they have probable cause or a reasonable belief that a crime has occurred. A police officer usually presents evidence that establishes probable cause, and a judge will outline the terms of the warrant. Evidence collected outside the jurisdiction of the warrant may not be admissible in court.

The Bottom Line

If police officers show up at your home stating that they would like to search your premises, you have the legal right to refuse. You are not required to give consent for search unless the police have a warrant. If they do have the warrant, you have the right to ask them to read it to you.

If you have already been involved in a search, and you believe its terms may have been illegal, tell your defense attorney. Your attorney can advise you of your rights and protect them moving forward.

In some cases, it might be in your best interest to let an officer search your home, so you can prevent injury or avoid being charged with interfering with a police investigation. If you find yourself in a position where police are requesting entry to your home or vehicle, talk to your Raleigh criminal defense attorney to discuss your legal options.